Flying with a baby is one of the biggest reasons that families with youngsters choose to stay home rather than traveling abroad. The thought of air travel with kids can be intimidating. You might be concerned about being “that parent with the screaming child”, losing your child in a busy airport, dealing with security while wrestling with a toddler and a diaper bag, or any number of other very valid concerns.

It’s true that air travel with children requires more preparation than going by yourself or with your partner, but it need not be a nightmare. With over 50 flights with children under 5 years old under our belts, we thought we might have a little experience to help those thinking about flying with their kids. Here are our thoughts on what you need to know before flying with a baby.

Before your flight

Make sure you plan your route to the airport accordingly. Take into consideration traffic and construction delays and figure out if you are arriving by taxi, Uber, train or car.

Most national flights require you to be at the airport at least an hour before your flight while international flights require at least two hours. When you’re traveling with children, it’s always good to leave yourself some extra time in case of delays checking in, or emergency diaper changes.

baby lying in a messy luggage and laughing

Packing

Diaper Bag

If you have a lap-child then the child is usually entitled to a carry-on bag in addition to the guardians carry-on.

Stroller

Most airlines also allow you to bring a stroller through security and have it be checked in right at the gate (often called a gate-check). If you choose this as an option of transporting your child through the airport, make sure you let the airline know at check-in so that they can give you the gate-check tag for your stroller. A stroller is usually a complimentary check-in on most airlines.

Comfort items

If your child has an item that they can’t live without (in our case, D absolutely must have a soft blanket with him to relax), then a flight is not the time to leave that at home. Whether it’s a stuffy, a blanket or a favorite book, make sure it’s available in your carry on for when your child needs it.

Diapers and wipes

Don’t let what happened to us, happen to you.

During our 15 hour flight from Toronto to Jordan, D got hit with a bad case of the runs. We watched desperately as our once towering stack of diapers dwindled to naught. Finally, two hours before our flight landed in Amman, we were cleaned out and praying to the poop gods to give us a break.  For your flight, pack double the number of diapers you would expect. Prepare for delays, weather cancellations, and any other wrench that can be thrown at you.

Extra items

Don’t forget to pack an extra set of clothes and a couple of plastic bags in case of “accidents”.

Toddler looking over a plane seat at his baby sister

Flying with babies

Keep in mind when booking your seats, children are not allowed in the exit row of an airplane. Many airlines also have policies limiting one infant per accompanying adult (16 years of age or older). Rules on flights with children vary by airline and are also different for domestic, international and trans-continental flights.

Seat options with babies

Lap Child

When flying with children under two years of age, you have the option to board them as a lap child. A lap child often allows you to book the child at minimal or no additional charge (depending on the airline). To save on costs, we always chose to carry our children as lap children during our flights, including our 15-hour flight from Toronto to Jordan. Having a lap child means that you will require an extra seatbelt for international flights and you must hold your child, with the seatbelt on when the seatbelt indicator is on in the plane.

Because lap children have a different ticket than others on the flight, most automatic ticket booths will not allow you to get your child’s ticket from them. Instead, you will need to go directly to the counter and speak with an attendant.

Purchasing a Seat

If you are willing to spend the money to fly in comfort, purchasing a seat for your child can be a great way to improve the quality of your time onboard your flight. Your child will need to be secured in a proper child restraint, such as a car seat, during times that the seat-belt indicator is on. Airplanes don’t have UAS systems, so you will need to be familiar with how to install your airline approved car seat.

Bunker Bassinets

Some airlines allow parents of young infants to book a bunker bassinet, which is a small cot or bed that attaches to the wall of an airplanes bunker divider. These can be a huge score if your airline offers them, but you need to book them very early and often need to contact the airline directly to ensure that it is an option.

Booking your flight

Non-Stop Flights

Whenever possible, target non-stop flights. Limiting the boarding/de-boarding time as well as time spent organizing your family and packing/unpacking will significantly reduce the stress of your travel experience.

Pick the aisle seat

If you have the opportunity, choose an aisle seat. Children need to use the bathroom, a lot. Plus they like to get up and walk around the plane and introduce themselves to absolutely everyone on the flight. Choosing an aisle seat will help maintain your sanity as well as that of anyone who you’re seated with.

Liquids and food

The standard for liquid allowance on a flight is that no item can contain more than 100 ml of liquid in your carry-on baggage. These numbers, however, change when you are flying with children. Parents are allowed to bring enough formula, breast milk, and juice to keep your child nourished during your flight.

There have been instances where parents have attempted to carry-on significant amounts of these liquids, either from pumping while on business trips, or carrying on enough milk or formula for the child’s entire week-long travel and have been forced to dump the contents. The rules around amounts vary by airline, so it is best to bring what you need for the flight, plus a little extra in case of delays.

Make sure you are sitting together

While this isn’t an issue with a lap-child, anytime a child is booked in their own seat, many airlines have the option of separating a parent from their child during a flight. We think that this is a ridiculous policy. Some airlines are working to amend these policies, but to avoid any unpleasant surprises, speak with the airline ahead of time. There may be additional fees involved to ensure that you are placed with your child during the flight.

Toddler looking out the window of an airport as a plane is loaded in the background

After check-in

Airports can be busy places, so arriving early and getting a spot close to the counter and near a window can help you get settled and entertain the kids all at once. Make sure to pack a few toys or games that can be quickly packed up once the call-to-board occurs.

Snacks

If you haven’t packed any food for the flight, after check-in is also a great time to make any purchases of snacks or drinks for the flight. Airline food is rarely more than edible, so having some of your own munchies will help keep children’s hanger (anger caused by hunger) at bay.

Security

Security is always a big what-if when traveling, and with children, it’s no different. Juggling your bags and your baby makes the process a little more complicated than going through alone or with your partner. Make sure you have slip-on shoes and all your accessories, belts, change and phone are packed away in your carry-on before you join the security line in order to help simplify the process.

Children below the walking age are able to be carried through the scanners by their guardian. Once children are of walking age, they will usually need to go through themselves, either before or after their guardian. If your child is comfortable going ahead of you, a security agent will be waiting on the other side of the scanner to keep them from running off. If you need to go ahead of your child, you can ask an agent to wait with your child so they can walk through to you on the other side.

Boarding

Often, but not always, airlines give the option to those traveling with young children (generally considered those under the age of 5) to board early, just after those in the first-class/business-class seats. While we generally opt to board at the earliest possible moment in order to secure much sought after overhead bin space and get the children settled while there is relatively low traffic through the aisles, if you have an ‘energetic’ child, you may want to delay boarding as long as possible in order to give them a chance to burn off some energy before trapping them in a tin-can.

mother and son with touch pad in plane

In-Flight

So you’ve got your flights booked, you’ve checked in, made it through security and boarded the airplane. This, for me, is where I consider the trip to have “officially” begun! Here are a few tricks for making the best of your time in a flying  canister.

The speech

When you fly with children, there are a few things that the flight attendants will brief you on at the beginning of the flight. These usually include seatbelt/carrying instructions and tips on how to make the flight more comfortable for everyone on board.

Entertainment

If you have a long flight, a few soft cover storybooks are great to bring. small puppets are also a great way to bring some smiles to your little one as you cruise through the air.

Avoiding ear pain

Children can suffer from ear pain during flights due to their inability to make their ears pop during pressure changes. Having a bottle, soother or breastfeeding your child during take-off and landing can help your child’s ears pop by inducing a sucking motion.

Don’t expect help

We always travel with the motto “hope for the best, but expect the worst”. Airlines are generally quite good at helping parents through the flying process, but anyone can have a bad day, and rules are rarely in place to help the customer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get it.

Changing your baby in flight

Most passenger airplanes have at least one bathroom on the flight with a fold-down change table on it. It’s snug in there without the change table down, and it’s even cozier with two bodies and a change table taking up space, but at least you have a flat spot to work with.

On longer flights you will likely be asked to place any diapers into a supplied plastic bag to ensure a more pleasant atmosphere for everyone onboard.

Flying with a baby

Flying with a baby certainly offers its fair share of challenges, but if you plan ahead and give yourself lots of time, much of the pressure can be lessened. Don’t burden yourself with the extra stress of worry, and plan ahead to allow you take each moment in stride. Yes your child may cry or scream, or maybe they don’t. Maybe another passenger gives you a look, or maybe they help you lift your bags when you’re struggling. Either way, hope for the best, but expect the worse and focus on you, your baby and your upcoming adventure.

Are you a parent who has flown with a baby? Do you have tips, tricks or hacks that we may have missed? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Kevin Wagar

Kevin Wagar is a creative designer and technology expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life.
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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